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61kCcH+1C9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ For various sociocultural reasons ancient Egyptians are a big deal. The pyramids of Giza are about as distant from the time of Augustus as Classical Rome is from us. When the pyramids were rising the world was mostly prehistory. Africa was dominated by hunter-gatherers, as was much of Southeast Asia. The genetic cluster which we recognize as Northern Europeans was only coming into focus, while South Asians as we understand them today may not totally have been a coherent group.

It was a very different time. Down to the present day one population can plausibly claim a connection to ancient Egypt, and that population are the Copts. Though now extinct, their language was a direct descendant of ancient Egyptian, which was not a Semitic tongue. As Christians in a nation which as been Muslim for over 1,000 years, with the period after 1000 A.D. likely majority Muslim, they likely have experienced less genetic perturbation than other groups in the area.

The paper The genetics of East African populations: a Nilo-Saharan component in the African genetic landscape has some Coptic, and other, samples. There are 175,000 markers on this chip. Merged with the HGDP populations you get about 30,000.

sudan The PCA shows that Copts are mostly West Eurasian in ancestry. But they seem shifted to Northeast African Sub-Saharan groups The Mozabite Berbers are shifted toward West Africans, but their West Eurasian ancestry looks to be more like that of the Copts than West Asians. Though not shifted toward West Asians, the Copts do seem to have affinities with various Sudanese groups.
Screenshot 2016-10-28 00.34.13 This TreeMix graph was run on 30,000 markers, with the Sudan skewed sample and some HGDP populations. Not surprisingly, there are gene flow arrows from the Copts to the others. In particular, the two Nubian groups, who have long been resident right to the south of Egypt. But, there is also gene flow from a position between the Copts and Sub-Saharan Africans. Finally, observe that Northeast African Bantus, who have some Nilotic admixture from the Bantu, receive gene flow from a more “European” like population, while the Copts receive gene flow from near the Sardinians. All this points to a complex population history.

It seems likely that the Eurasian backmigration into Sub-Saharan African over the Holocene involved several distinct events. Some of them probably date to the period of the Pleistocene.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Copts, Genomics 
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  1. In the Broushaki et al 2016 models fitting moderns as ancients+Yoruba/Han the non-SSA part of North Africans is modeled as LBK and Iranian Neolithic (or something that’s best proxied by them when pre-metal age Levant and North Africa are unavailable), with the latter peaking in Egyptian Muslims. Saharawi are the only group which lacks Iran_N in those fits, even Mozabites have low amounts.

    Unfortunately no Copts in their set.

  2. Thinking about the linked East African paper more, one of the things I find most surprising is that the “Sudanese Arabs” do not seem to have much Arab ancestry at all. Overall they’re pretty similar in terms of components with Ethiopians, Beja, and Nubians – all of which have a West Eurasian component more similar to the Copts than to Qataris/Muslim Egyptians.

    The authors of the paper interpreted the Nilo-Saharan Nubians clustering with Afro-Asiatic populations to be due to extensive contact with Arabs following the arrival of Islam. I wonder if the data is better interpreted the other way around. Perhaps Sudanese Arabs are really Arabized Nubians which only were lightly affected by admixture after the arrival of Islam, with most of the influx of West Eurasian ancestry into northern Sudan being much older. I see two plausible scenarios. One is that modern-day northern Sudan was at one point Afro-Asiatic but non-Semetic, and there was later language shift to Nilo-Saharan. This actually could have been fairly recent, given written records of Nubian only begin in the 8th century AD (no one has translated Merotic – it may have been Nilo-Saharan or Afro-Asiatic. The second is that long-term contact with Egypt during the dynastic period heavily admixed the Nubian people. Certainly over time the archaeological record of Nubia became heavily influenced by Dynastic Egypt, and we have enough archeogenetic data now to know that “pots” indeed did tend to come along with people, not spread via cultural diffusion.

  3. A small quibble: It is true that the Coptic language, derived from ancient Egyptian, is not a Semitic language, but it is part of a larger (and generally accepted) linguistic family called “Afro-Asiatic.” The family includes Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, Berber languages like Tamazight, Cushitic languages like Somali, and Chadic languages like Hausa. If you study Coptic, you may notice many morphological similarities, as well as a few lexical similarities, between Coptic and Semitic languages.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    not a quibble, just a basic fact that everyone worth talking to should know.
  4. @Splendor Veritatis
    A small quibble: It is true that the Coptic language, derived from ancient Egyptian, is not a Semitic language, but it is part of a larger (and generally accepted) linguistic family called "Afro-Asiatic." The family includes Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew, Berber languages like Tamazight, Cushitic languages like Somali, and Chadic languages like Hausa. If you study Coptic, you may notice many morphological similarities, as well as a few lexical similarities, between Coptic and Semitic languages.

    not a quibble, just a basic fact that everyone worth talking to should know.

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